Trade Talks and Trailblazing

NDSU hosts session with former U.S Trade Representative to educate the community

John Bitzan, the Menard Family Director of the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global and Growth at NDSU, hosted a moderated conversation with former U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on the benefits of trade, her experience as a woman pioneer, negotiating trade agreements, and broader U.S. and international trade issues on Thursday.

While growing up, Shwab’s experiences from living with her foreign service family crafted her interest in trade and economics. She learned a great deal about other countries’ needs while living in developing and impoverished countries.

“You learn to have the capacity of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes which helps a whole lot when it’s time to negotiate trade agreements,” Shwab said.

In academia, she served as dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Williams College; a master’s degree from Stanford University; and a Ph.D. from The George Washington University. She then began her career as an agricultural trade negotiator at USTR.

After college and getting more into her trading career, Shwab served as assistant secretary of commerce and director-general of the U.S and Foreign Commercial service, as a trade staffer and legislative director for Senator John C. Danforth, and as a foregin service officer at the U.S Embassy in Tokyo.

Shwab says that trade is a great career for everyone, but especially for women, and it is no longer uncommon for women to be trade representatives. “We stopped keeping track after the fourth woman to be a trade representative,” Shwab said.

She encourages more people with business degrees, tech experts or agriculture experts to get into trade and economics. “You can get into the trade field from so many different areas,” Shwab said. “Trade is international economics, domestic economics, it is foregin policy, and it is domestic politics.”

Shwab says that if you have to pick one field for a better background, it is probably law. “But, I think there are too many lawyers, and that makes trade feel more litigious,” Shwab said.

She also states that regardless of what field a person comes from, taking economics is key to understanding how a global economy works.

“If you don’t understand economics on the business side, you’re not going to understand the needs of constituencies,” Shwab said.

As a result of Covid-19, there has been a disruption in global supply chains. Because of this, people across the U.S. suggest that the country should start making its own products.
“It doesn’t make sense to try and make everything yourself in your own country,” Shwab said.

Both exports and imports are good, however there can also be negative impacts from both as well. “If nobody took our imports, what would we be doing with them?” Shwab said. “And, therefore, we need to be taking other people’s exports too.”

For people thinking about going into trade and advancing within the job, people need to understand that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” Shwab said.

For more information or to view a recording of the session, visit the Challey Institute’s website.

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